You would think that with all of the crime, crooked cops, loudmouth politicians, immoral activities and road rage, I would have had my fill of Liberty City and moved elsewhere. But when Rockstar Games' newest (and possibly final) Grand Theft Auto IV expansion pack hit the Xbox Live Marketplace, I was ready and willing to take another stab at the crime-ridden streets of Liberty City. I'm glad I did, because The Ballad of Gay Tony tells a phenomenal story that not only wraps up all of the loose ends, but it also gives me a greater appreciation for just how phenomenal Grand Theft Auto IV really was.
If you've been keeping up with the Grand Theft Auto saga, then you'll know that this is the second of two expansion packs that Rockstar Games promised at E3 several years ago. The first was a dark and gritty adventure called The Lost and Damned, an aggressive look at the harsh world of a motorcycle gang. This time around we trade in the rough exterior for something a little lighter. With its bright and colorful imagery, the disco on the radio and the barrage of funny characters, it's clear from the get-go that The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn't take itself too serious. But don't get me wrong, this lengthy expansion pack still offers all of the crime, debauchery and over-the-top ultra violence that has made the series so popular.
The "Gay Tony" mentioned referenced in the title is a club owner that controls many of the hot spots that litter Liberty City. Even if you don't know him Tony Prince by name, you've no doubt been to one of his clubs (or at least driven by them and noticed the commotion). You play Tony's bodyguard, Luis Lopez, a Dominican street gangster who has already done time for drug dealing and is loyal to a fault. He's the kind of guy who seems ready to fix just about any problem which is good, because Tony Prince has a LOT of problems.
You would think that a man controlling so many popular gay and straight nightclubs wouldn't have anything to worry about. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Thanks to his attraction to the wrong kind of man and his dabbling in drugs and alcohol, Tony is about to lose everything. He's being blackmailed, he's running out of money and, worst of all, he's being bad mouthed by Liberty City's most influential celebrity blogger. It sounds like it's time for Luis to steal a car and right some wrongs.
If you've played Grand Theft Auto IV or The Lost and Damned (or any other Grand Theft Auto game, for that matter) then you'll immediately recognize the game's structure. You have free reign over the sprawling city and the ability to take on missions at your leisure. You can cause wanton violence in the street or take on odd jobs around the fictional New York City. And when you're bored playing around in this gigantic sandbox, you can move on to seeing what the story has to offer.
Early on many of your missions will be doled out by none other than Gay Tony, but before long you'll be introduced to a whole assortment of colorful characters who will also require your expertise. Think the flamboyantly gay Tony Prince is a character? Wait until you get a load of Yusuf Amir, a Middle Eastern immigrant with a penchant for gold-plated guns and powerful helicopters. You will also meet Mori Kibbutz, the older (and shorter) brother of GTA IV's Brucie. Ever wonder why Brucie is the way he is? The Ballad of Gay Tony will shed light on that boy's over-the-top demeanor. These are just a couple of the memorable characters you'll run into in this expansion pack. The rest of the cast will not disappoint, that I can guarantee.
You also won't be disappointed with the two dozen or so missions found in The Ballad of Gay Tony. Fans of the series will find Luis pulling off many familiar tasks (stealing people's cars, killing marked men and so on), but there is enough new here to keep this expansion pack fresh and exciting. For one thing, this game takes to the air a lot more than the other two installments. Part of the reason for this is because Luis has a brand new skill that he brings to the table, namely the ability to skydive. Throughout the course of the game you will discover that many of Luis's most hair-raising missions involve you leaping from high up and parachuting to safety. This brand new ability is reason enough to invest the $20 in the game, there's a great deal of fun to be had climbing on tall buildings and base jumping, it's something sorely missing from Grand Theft Auto IV.
Base jumping isn't the only new thing Luis brings to the table. My favorite moments in the game involve you and the brand new explosive shotgun shells. This weapon is powerful. Seriously powerful. So powerful that all it takes is two or three shots to the side of a helicopter to send it crashing to the ground. In one of the game's most exciting moments you find yourself stuck on the top of a fast moving train, having to shoot down enemy helicopters while dodging bullets. There's something extremely satisfying about watching these helpless helicopters crash to the ground while you advance on the front car. It's a scene that I knew I wanted to go back and play over and over again.
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